EnviroNews: Republicans plotting public land grab

By Amy Brunvand

In October Utah Senator Mike Lee (R) invited a group of Republican senators and other politicians to Moab, Utah trying to persuade them to hand over federal public lands to the State of Utah. At the meeting, Lee said that “garden variety BLM Land” should be sold by the State of Utah in order to fund education, law enforcement and emergency medical services. Lee believes that if local government could profit directly from sales they would support privatization of federal public lands.

Lee praised Utah’s for-profit land management agencies, but failed to mention the downside. In Utah, the State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) which  manages land to raise revenues for education has become notorious for acting against the public good.

For example, a massive new frac-sand strip mine near Kanab is using SITLA land to get a foot in the door; Uinta Basin tar-sand strip mining is also on SITLA land; A SITLA gravel pit near Torrey sparked a citizen lawsuit; SITLA land near Bluff was sold to a private owner, creating an inholding in Bears Ears National Monument; and when SITLA holds property with recreational value, the public had to pay full price to keep these places public.

Lee also pointed to Utah state parks as an example of good management. However, in 2011 the Utah Legislature requested a performance audit of Utah state parks which were “under pressure to reduce use of taxpayer funds.” The report suggested reducing park staff and law enforcement, managing parks like independent businesses, and park privatization. Worse, the report suggested closing parks that didn’t generate enough visitor revenue.

In fact, the Utah State Park system is highly vulnerable to the whims of the Utah Legislature and offers no process for public scoping or stakeholder input.

This is an excerpt from our December EnviroNews column. View the full article here.

This article was originally published on December 3, 2019.